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Why has the "I Have a Dream" speech been so successful?

Posted by Sarah Bedrick

Aug 28, 2013, 12:53 PM


Today marks the date of an important anniversary in the history of our nation - it's the 50th anniversary of when Dr. 220px-Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_WashingtonMartin Luther King Jr. delivered his influential "I have a dream" speech during the March on Washington

Even 50 years later, many will agree that when they hear this famous speech - it evokes emotion or maybe gives them chills. But why is that? Why does this speech - a half century later - still have such a profound impact when heard? 

Of course there is the obvious - and that is the transformative message of the speech.

However, King was a leader of civil rights and it was known that his oratories focused on freedom and rights for black people in America. 

So why does this speech stand out among the rest. What about this speech has left such a commanding imprint in history. 

This speech had such power and finesse that many storytelling experts have analyzed it in depth to determine why it may have been such a success.

What many people don't realize is that the most-famous "I have a dream" passage - MLK had in fact deviated from the previously prepared speech - and was completely extemporaneous.  Many speculate the digression may have been caused by a listener, Mahalia Jackson, who shouted behind him, "Tell them about the dream!" And while he had previously talked about his dream in a similar fashion earlier that year on June 23rd at Cobo Hall during the Great March on Detroit, this was completely unscripted and improvised. Maybe it was this departure from script allowed his true emotions and uncensored passion to shine through - making it a succes.

Side note: Now there is a reason to participate in Toastmasters Tabletopics if I've ever seen one.

Storytelling expert Nancy Duarte states that a major factor of it's success is King's balance between stating "what is" and "what could be" which is said to be a great way to build an inspiring story.  See Nancy Duarte's full analysis of Dr. King's speech here

Another public speaking expert at Ginger Public Speaking cites the success of the speech was due to his confidence, cadence, the rhythm and repetition. Check out their analysis of the speech here

And maybe Malcolm Gladwell would propose that it was the perfect tipping point for his previous efforts finally coming to fruition - along with repetition.  Simon Sinek may possibly believe that MLK was able to identify the partners in the crowd that fed his energy allowing him to take his speech to the next level.

Or was it the symbolism of him speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

What do you think led to this transformative speech? Was it King's cadence, vocal intonations, the content, the juxtaposition of "what is" and "what could be," all of them - or something completely different? Please feel free to share your own thoughts below.

Oh and if you haven't seen the famous "I Have a Dream" Speech? Watch the YouTube video below:

 

 

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